BOOK TITLE: The Australia Times - Antiques magazine. Volume 1, issue 2

Vol. 1 No. 2
June 2015
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Independent Media Inspiring Minds
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Welcome, everybody, to the second
edition of The Australia Times – ANTIQUES
In this issue of TAT Antiques, we will be
covering one of the trickier elements of
antiques – gold and silver. How to identify
gold and silver, how to read marks, how
to distinguish gold and silver from similar-
looking metals, and how to discern what’s
real, what’s fake, and what the dierences
are between the various grades and levels of
gold, silver and types of imitations which are
to be found out there in the world.
The cover-image for this issue of TAT
Antiques is the entrance to the London
Silver Vaults, a vast, underground storage-
facility holding millions of pounds in sterling
silver tableware, jewellery and other items
made of silver.
We aim to inform, entertain, teach, encourage, educate and support the community at
large by facilitating communication between all Australians. By providing the opportunity
for all opinions to be shared on a single website.
What Are Gold and Silver? ....................................................8
Solid Gold and Solid Silver .....................................................10
All That Glisters is Not Gold (or silver!) .............................16
Making your Mark: Hallmarks of All Kinds ......................20
Collecting Antique Gold and Silver .................................... 26
TAT Antiques - Featured Antique - Reader
Information! ................................................................................ 28
TAT Antiques - Featured Antique! .....................................30
Conclusion ...................................................................................38
Sources and References ........................................................38
Shahan Cheong
TAT Antiques
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TAT Antiques
Featured Antique
TAT Antiques
Featured Antique
I think most people have at least a minimal fascination in gold and silver, and I consider myself to be
no exception to this. As expensive as some of it can be, it can be a big thrill as a collector to say that you
own pieces of antique gold and silver. The thrill of nding out more about a particular piece and tracking
down its possibly exciting history, is all part of what makes this stu so appealing and alluring.
I started getting interested in antique gold and silver a few years ago, when I was given a few small
pieces of vintage jewellery as gifts. I got interested in studying and learning about things like levels of
purity, hallmarks and so-forth, and it’s an interest that has only grown over time. I hope to share some
of that with you in this issue.
Shahan Cheong
TAT Antiques
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By Shahan Cheong
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What is Gold?
Gold is an elemental metal, famous since ancient times
for its bright, yellow sheen, malleability, weight and
beauty. Mankind has sought gold for thousands of years
and have used it to make all kinds of items. Although
most famously used for jewellery and currency, it is also
used in certain industrial and manufacturing processes.
Gold tarnishes very little (if at all), it is inert, and does
not rust. This means that the uses for gold can be
surprisingly varied.
20g bar of 24kt (99.9% pure) gold.
While industrial uses for gold (such as in watchmaking
and electronics) is steadily rising, one of the largest areas
of gold-use remains in personal jewellery, and nance.
In this issue, we’ll be looking at antique gold jewellery,
how to identify it and how to tell what is solid gold, and
what is not, as well as the terms used to dierentiate
What is Silver?
Silver is another elemental metal, the less impressive
brother of Gold. Never as valuable as gold, silver is
nonetheless highly prized. It has been used in currency
for centuries, and has been used to make all manner of
household objects, from the useful, to the beautiful, the
novel, to the absurd! All kinds of idioms exist for silver.
To be born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth, the family
silver, a silver tongue…the list goes on.
Silver has been used in the currency of countless
countries around the world. The United States (the
silver dollar), Spain (the piece of eight), Great Britain
(the pound sterling) and the Netherlands (the silver
guilder) to name but a few. But most people these days
are mostly interested in silver which they can use and
hold, not count and spend! Antique silver!
5g bar of Sterling Silver
Some people are lucky enough to literally own ‘the
family silver’, which they might have inherited. Some
people collect silver, some people like to buy and use
antique silver jewellery. But how to determine what’s
silver and what isn’t? Given how many people want it,
there have been numerous methods devised in the
past to fake silver. How do you determine what’s real
silver and what’s an imitation? And even if you have
silver – how do you learn more about it? Stick with me
and nd out!
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By Shahan Cheong
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One of the biggest issues with antique gold and silver is knowing
what is real solid gold or silver, and what isn’t. How do you nd
out? What does ‘solid’ mean? What things do you look for in
dierentiating solid and plate?
What is ‘Solid Gold’?
Antique jewellery is often described as being ‘solid gold’. As in
a solid gold watch-chain. A solid gold ring. A solid gold set of
earrings. What is ‘solid gold’?
First. Let us not confuse SOLID GOLD with PURE GOLD.
PURE GOLD is 24kt gold. 100% gold.
Pure gold is almost never used in the manufacture of jewellery,
brand new, or antique. It’s too soft and delicate to be worked
eectively. It would bend and dent and warp too readily for
wearable jewellery to be crafted from it.
This is why jewellery is made from the next step down:
Solid Gold is represented as karats, and percentages. The
common ones are: 22kt, 18kt, 15kt, 14kt, 12kt, 10kt and 9kt gold.
Marks such as these on a gold object will tell you how much
pure gold is inside an item. These purities may be marked as
percentages. For example: 375, 410, 500, 535, 750, etc. This
means that they are a certain percentage of gold. 500 = 50%
gold, or 12kt.
9ct gold Edwardian cuinks
Let’s say you have a gold ring. On it is a mark that says:
18k, 18kt, or 18ct. This means that the ring is 18kts out of
a possible 24kts pure gold. Or 75% gold. Alright, three
quarters of this ring is gold. What’s the rest of it? The
‘rest of it’ is other metals. Usually nickel, copper, silver
or some other metal, poured into the gold when it
was melted, and mixed around. This creates an alloy (a
mixture of two or more metals), which makes the gold
less pure, but stronger as a result, and therefore, better
for jewellery-making.
How much an antique gold item will cost depends on
its size, rarity, condition and the amount of gold in it.
A fountain pen nib which is 14kt gold may not be worth
much, because while it’s more than half gold…it’s only a
pen nib! And it’s tiny! A pair of antique glasses with 9kt
gold on the frame might be worth more, because while
the gold content is lower, it’s a more widely practical
item, and it’s larger! Or, it might be harder to nd, driving
the value up.
What is ‘Solid Silver’?
An item which is said to be ‘solid silver’ is usually an item
which contains a high majority of silver in its makeup,
usually between 80 to 92.5%. The remaining 20% or
7.5% is another metal which has added into the silver
for strength, since pure silver, like pure gold, would be
too weak to be of any practical use.
To make it stronger and more versatile, copper is added
to silver, which gives us ‘solid silver’, as opposed to ‘pure
silver’. Most items that wed call ‘solid silver’ are what’s
known as ‘Sterling Silver’, that is, 925 parts silver, per
1,000 parts, and 75 parts copper.
The term ‘sterling silver’ is the basis of the Pound
Sterling, the British currency. Originally a ‘pound
sterling’, was quite literally a pound in weight of sterling
silver shillings. In old money, it took twenty shiny silver
shillings to make one pound in weight. Which is why
one pound sterling was twenty shillings.
While sterling silver is the standard in Britain, this is not
the same in other parts of the world. Certain European
countries have dierent laws on what may legally be
termed ‘silver’ within their borders. In Germany, ‘solid
silver’ must be at least 80% (800/1000) silver. In the
Netherlands, it must be at least 93% (930/1000).
Percentages vary around the world, but are usually
between 80-95%.
Sterling silver antique thimble. American-made
silver is more likely to have ‘STERLING’ stamped on
it, rather than a series of hallmarks.
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What is ‘Coin Silver’?
In collecting antique silver, you may occasionally come across the term ‘Coin Silver’, or variants thereof. What is
Coin Silver’ is a term used exclusively in American silversmithing. It means that the item has been made of the
same level of silver as legally required in American coins, generally between 800-900 parts per thousand. This
was a common silver standard in the United States before the 1870s.
However, the term ‘Coin Silver’ may have a more literal meaning, depending on the context. It may may also mean
that the item is quite literally made of silver coins. That is to say, silver coins which are out of circulation, and which
have been melted down to reclaim the metal, and which were then cast into new items (such as silver cutlery, etc).
Antique silver manufactured by this means will also have ‘Coin Silver’ or a similar term, marked onto it.
In modern times, American silver marked ‘COIN’ or similar, must be of a purity of at least 90%.
Silver coins
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By Shahan Cheong
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When electroplating was developed in the early 1800s,
this metal was plated in silver to make it look even more
like the item it was simulating, giving us electro-plated
nickel silver. Using this method, cheap, silver-plate
objects could be manufactured on a large scale, ranging
from cutlery to tableware, wine-cups, platters, coee-
pots, salt-cellars and countless other items.
If you see an item marked “EPNS” on its base, then
it’s not solid silver. And even before you see the mark,
if an item feels light for its size, or has strong, green-
blue tarnishing on it, then it is unlikely to be silver. The
discolouration comes from the tarnishing of the copper
and zinc inside the alloy.
Nickel silver is also called ‘Alpaca’, and a whole host of
other names.
Base of a nickel-silver teapot with “EPNS” “A1” (high-
est grade) stamped upon it.
For as long as theres been gold and silver, there
have been people who have tried to make cheaper
alternatives to the real thing. A signicant amount
of antique gold and silver is not solid, and countless
people have been duped into buying things, or selling
things which arent what they appear to be.
From the 1700s onwards, various methods of simulating
gold and silver, and of plating objects to give them the
appearance of gold and silver have been devised. How
do you gure out the dierence between what’s gold,
what’s silver, and what’s white metal or plate?
Electro-Plated Nickel Silver
One of the most common things you’ll nd is Electro-
Plated Nickel Silver. Or E.P.N.S.
EPNS is exactly what it sounds like. It’s an alloy of metals
(nickel, copper and zinc), which is then plated with a thin
layer of silver. Most items made of EPNS are marked
“EPNS” on the bottom.
Originally, this alloy was just called “Nickel Silver”, and
was made of nickel, copper and zinc, without any silver
plating. Polished up, it could pass, supercially, for silver,
but had no actual silver in it. It was developed in China
during the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and by the
1700s had spread to Europe. Germany was one of the
main areas of manufacturing this imitation silver, and so
it was sometimes called ‘German Silver’.
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Electro-Plated Britannia
Related to EPNS is its cousin, EPBM. Electro-Plated
Britannia Metal. Britannia metal is mostly tin, with small
amounts of antimony and copper thrown in, and then
plated in silver. Strictly speaking, Britannia metal is a
form of pewter (high level of tin, low levels of copper
and antimony), which has been plated in silver. Like
EPNS, it’s been used to make all kinds of things which
look like they’re made of silver, such as platters, shaving
scuttles, teapots and coee-pots.
Gold-Filling/Rolled Gold
Rolled gold or gold-lling is another form of ‘gold plating’,
except no electricity is used in the process. It is where a
sheet of gold is bonded (essentially, welded or melted)
onto an item made of a base metal (usually brass). As
the gold is thicker, gold-lling produces a much better
quality item than gold-plating, and will last a lot longer,
but given enough time, the gold will eventually rub
away to expose the brass underneath (called ‘brassing’).
Rolled gold or gold-ll is usually marked as such and will
say ‘rolled gold’, ‘gold lled’ or ‘rolled gold plate’. These
terms are not to be confused with ‘gold plating’ which is
the electronic method of plating a microscopically thin
layer of gold over something else.
Britannia metal (pewter) is not to be confused with
Britannia Silver (which is 95% solid silver).
The underside of a pewter vessel with “E.P.B.M”
(Electro-Plated Britannia Metal) on it.
Gold-filled pocketwatch case
Gold Plating
Gold plating is much like silver-plating. Electroplating,
that is. An item made of a base metal is lowered into
a gold-bath and an electric current is passed through,
plating the item in a thin layer of gold. Gold-plating is
not hallmarked in any way and the plating can usually
be removed quite easily just from daily use.
Items such as pocketwatch cases, fountain pen barrels
and caps, and pieces of costume jewellery were often
made of gold-ll over brass. In the United States, a
gold-lled pocketwatch case will have words such as:
Guaranteed to WearYears” stamped on it.
Cheaper gold-lled cases were guaranteed to wear
(last) for 5 years. More expensive gold-lled cases were
guaranteed to last for 20 or 25 years, before the gold
would start to wear o, and the brass would show
through underneath.
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Another way of simulating the look of gold is called gilding
– covering something in a thin layer of gold through a
chemical process. Gilding involved manufacturing an
item out of another metal (brass or bronze), and then
rubbing a paste of gold onto the metal and then ring
the item in a kiln in order make the gold adhere to the
Called re gilding, due to the heat needed for this
process to work, it could produce items which had the
look of gold, but not the cost! At least, not monetarily.
Also called ormolu, re gilding was a phenomenally
poisonous method of dressing an item of brass or
bronze in a sheen of gold. The crushed gold was mixed
with mercury before it was applied…by hand…to the
object, all over. The kiln heating burned o the mercury,
causing it to evaporate as mercury fumes, and bonding
the gold to the bronze or brass.
The poor gilder, who had to be nearby to ensure that
the process was working properly, would have inhaled
the fumes of mercury, which led to nerve damage,
brain damage and eventual death. A similar process
(called ‘carroting’) was used to treat the fur pelts of
animals used to make felt hats. The constant exposure
to mercury fumes would send the manufacturer…mad
as a hatter.
Ormolu was outlawed in the 1830s, although its use
continued for up to a century afterwards. Electroplating
replaced re gilding, although the results were never
quite as spectacular.
Silver items gilded over with gold (silver-gilt) is also
known as vermeil. Gilding silver with gold followed the
same dangerous mercury-process as gilding any other
metal. It was such a dangerous process that long-term
inhalation of mercury fumes meant that many gilders
died extremely young by modern standards – most
would be lucky to live beyond the age of 40.
The body of this clock is made of bronze, which was
then gilt, to give it the appearance of gold.
The process of covering base metals with gold led to
the coinage of the term, by Mark Twain, of the ‘Gilded
Age’, a period of Western (mostly American) history,
from the late 1800s to the rst decade of the 20th
century. It was a term used to describe the sheen of
glamour, progress and respectability (gilding) which hid
from view the harder realities of life for working people.
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Making your Mark:
Hallmarks of
All Kinds
By Shahan Cheong
In purchasing antique gold and silver, nothing is more important than understanding hallmarks. Hallmarks
usually tell you all that you need to know about the item youre purchasing. Who made it, when it was made,
where it was made, and what it’s made of! Understanding what hallmarks mean and what they signify
is important. Below is a simple guide about hallmarks. What they are, where they came from, what they
mean, and how to read them.
e History of Hallmarks
Hallmarks have been around for thousands of years
and can be dated back to the Byzantine Empire. It is the
oldest existing form of buyer-protection in the world.
The current system of hallmarking was established
in France in the 1260s. English hallmarking started in
1300, by order of King Edward I. Regardless of country
or date of enactment, the purposes of hallmarking have
not changed since medieval times: To prevent fraud
and ensure quality.
To prevent people from being cheated about the level
of gold or silver in their coinage and jewellery, and to
keep metalsmiths honest, national governments have
insisted that items manufactured of gold and silver be
independently tested by a trusted body, and stamped
with marks that attest to the item’s purity and quality.
These are the marks that we still have today.
Goldsmiths’ Hall, London. The punch-mark stamps hammered into precious metals sent to this institution gave rise to
the term ‘Hallmark’.
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Hallmarks: Whats in a Name?
The word ‘hallmark’ comes from Goldsmiths’ Hall in
London, the home of the Worshipful Company of
Goldsmiths, Londons ocial goldsmith’s guild.
Situated on the same spot since 1339, Goldsmiths’ Hall
is the institution where all items made of gold or silver in
London and its surrounds, were sent for independent
testing starting in 1478. This was to ensure that they
were actually made of gold, or silver, and to determine
their purity. An item which had satised the legal
requirements to be called ‘solid gold’ or ‘solid silver’
were stamped with the Hall’s mark of certication – a
hallmark. Goldsmiths’ Hall remains the Assay Oce for
London hallmarking to this day.
Reading the Marks –
Whats What?
Understanding what hallmarks are for is pretty easy.
Understanding what they are saying is signicantly
harder! Marks vary signicantly by age, manufacturer,
location and country. Knowing how to read hallmarks
properly is an important part of purchasing or collecting
antique gold and silver.
To make things simple, what follows will be a detailed
breakdown of the various types of hallmarks, and what
they mean. In this case, I’ll be using silver marks, as
they’re the type that most people are likely to see more
often. For the sake of simplicity, I will be using British
silver hallmarks.
A full set of silver marks will typically contain the
following elements:
Fineness Mark. The Fineness Mark is a legal mark
which all pieces of silver crafted in Britain must contain.
This mark indicates the purity of the metal. In Britain, for
something to be called ‘Silver’, it must be at least 92.5%
pure, also called Sterling Silver. The neness mark is
the mark given by an independent examiner (an assay
oce) which states that they have tested the metal and
that the item is indeed sterling silver.
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Goldsmiths’ Hall, London. The punch-mark stamps hammered into precious metals sent to this institution gave rise to
the term ‘Hallmark’.
Silver needle-case. A fineness mark of a Lion Passant (second
from left) indicates Sterling Silver in antique British silverware.
More modern silver would have a ‘925’ hallmark.
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In Britain, the traditional neness mark is the symbol
of a lion walking to the left, called a ‘Lion Passant’. In
modern silver, the hallmark ‘925’ is also used, and the
Lion has become optional, but some silversmiths still
like to have the lion passant on their silver, for the sake
of tradition. In older British silver, only the Lion Passant
Silver cutlery-stand. Hallmarks read: Thomas Freeth [TF]. Duty Mark (Monarch’s Head, indicating tax paid on silver. Abolished
1890). Lion Passant (Sterling Silver - 92.5% silver), [M] date-letter of 1807, and Lion’s Head Erased (Britannia Silver - 95% silver)
Silver card case. Shield assay mark (second from right) for
Chester. This indicates the oce where this piece was assessed
to determine its silver content.
Silver and ivory pen-holder. Maker’s mark of Mappin & Webb
(extreme left). Maker’s marks I.D who manufactured this piece
of silver. Mappin & Webb is a London jewelry firm.
will be visible. In some pieces, the neness mark may
be the image of a woman (“Britannia”). This is the
neness mark for Britannia Silver (95% silver). Another
silver hallmark was the image of a lion's head ('Lion's
Head Erased' is the proper term), which also indicated
Britannia Silver.
Assay Mark. The next mark which you will nd is the
Assay Mark, also called a City Mark. This is the mark
(signature, if you will) of the assay oce, and the city
which carried out the independent silver testing.
Each assay oce has its own symbol by which it can
be identied. There were once several British assay
oces. London, Sheeld, Birmingham, Edinburgh,
Dublin, Exeter, Chester, Glasgow, Newcastle, Norwich
and York. Today, only London, Sheeld, Birmingham
and Edinburgh are still operational.
Of the four remaining assay oces, their symbols are
the Leopard’s Head (London), Anchor (Birmingham),
Crown (Sheeld) and a Castle (Edinburgh).
If your Leopard has a crown on his head, then I’d be
putting that silver in a safe! It means that it’s made
before 1820 in London!
Makers Mark. Next is the Makers Mark, also called
a Sponsor’s Mark. This is the ocial mark of the
manufacturer of this piece of silver (or gold). Makers
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Silver pencil-holder. Date-letter [g] for Birmingham,
indicates 1906.
Marks were made compulsory in England in
1363. In older times, a maker’s mark was a symbol
of some kind, but as this could quickly get
confusing, a law was passed in the 1600s that the
silversmith’s initials would suce.
As some names might still get confused, dierent
fonts, sizes of letters, uppercase and lowercase
letters, and dierent borders were used around
the letters, to dierentiate the various silversmiths
and companies.
Date Letter. Another mark is the Date Letter
or Date Mark. These are single letters, cycling
through the alphabet, diering every cycle by
size, style, upper or lower case, and by the border
around each letter. By this method, accurately
narrowing down the year when an item was
hallmarked (and therefore, manufactured), can
be very easy. Date-letters were made compulsory
in France in 1427, and 1478, in England.
Duty Mark. Some pieces of silver may have
what’s called a Duty Mark. In England, this was
typically represented by a monarchs head in
prole. This hallmark symbolises that tax on the
item has been paid to the Crown. Duty Marks in
England ceased in 1890. If you have a duty mark,
then it’s older than 1890. Narrowing down the
monarch’s head makes it easier to date an item.
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By Shahan Cheong
Great care should be taken when collecting antique
gold and silver. Using it, storing it and cleaning it should
be done with delicacy. Polishing gold and silver should
be done sparingly, and with as ne a polish
as possible. Aggressive polishing
with unsuitable substances can
damage the silver, wear away
patterns and ne details, and
even scrub o hallmarks! Once
cleaned, however, they can
be stored or displayed almost
anywhere, unaected by sunlight or
My Item Doesn’t Have a Hallmark!
Occasionally you may come across an item which does
not have a hallmark on it. What to do? Who to ask?
If you do have an antique piece of gold or silver which
isn’t hallmarked, then you can take it to an auction
house or a reputable jewellery establishment, and have
it tested. This will conrm if the item is, or is not
gold, or silver. But it cannot (or should
not) be hallmarked, if the piece
doesn’t already have marks, as this
would damage the originality of
the piece. A certicate or other
documentation can be provided
to attest to the metal being gold or
silver, and what percentage.
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TAT Antiques
Featured Antique
Reader Information!
By Shahan Cheong
Each issue of ‘e Australia Times – ANTIQUES’ magazine will include a ‘Featured
Antique’ section. Due to the possibly random nature of ‘Featured Antique’ submissions,
the items showcased in this segment of the magazine may or may not be
related to the theme for the issue in which it appears.
If you would like to showcase one of your prized antiques in a future
issue of TAT Antiques, please contact the Editor (Shahan Cheong) on
his TAT email address with the necessary information, as outlined in
the form below.
*Please note that all photographs must be of the actual featured antique, and must be taken by the owner. ey cannot be
photographs of an identical item lied from an online source (such as Google Images).
Photographs should show all sides and elements of the antique and any interesting features. ey should be clear and easy to
see, not blurry, too close/far away, and as numerous as possible. e best photos of the item will be used to display it in the
Name of Owner:
Featured Item:
Date or Period of Manufacture:
Place of Manufacture (if known):
Name of Manufacturer (if known):
Backstory/History and
Personal Connection with Item:
In-Depth Item Prole (Give us a detailed, word-picture
of your prized possession!):
Featured Antique – Submission Form
Each ‘Featured Antiques’ segment may include additional information
contributed by the Editor, such as manufacturer histories, and item-insights, to
provide readers with a better understanding of the item, and give them more
information about the antique being featured in each issue.
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TAT Antiques
Featured Antique
Backstory and
Personal History
Name of Owner: Shahan Cheong
Featured Item: Railroad Chronometer
Date of Manufacture: Ca. 1950
Place of Manufacture: Switzerland
Name of Manufacturer: Ball Watch
I love pocketwatches. Ive never enjoyed wristwatches. I hate the weight-imbalance
on my hands, the sweat in the summertime, the cold in the winter, the irritation…
the list goes on. at, and when I did wear a wristwatch, I had a nasty habit of always
Gold-filled Ball railroad chronometer. Ca. 1950
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Ba 435-c Railroad Chronometer Pocketwatch
– In-Depth Prole
e Ball 435 series of railroad chronometers were manufactured in the company’s
Swiss factories in the 1950s. It was a railroad-standard pocketwatch (as were all Ball
pocketwatches), meaning that it was of sucient quality to be used as a timekeeping
and safety-device on railroad networks around the world, most commonly in
Britain, Canada and the United States.
e 435 series manufactured by Ball was one of the last models of pocketwatches
approved for use on the Canadian Pacic Railroad, and was one of the last mass-
produced railroad pocketwatches, before they stopped being produced in the
1960s. By that time, wristwatches had attained sucient levels of accuracy that
railroad pocketwatches (which, by law, had to be carried by railroad personnel),
were being phased out. Advances in technology started phasing out the need for
railroad watches of any kind, soon aer.
taking it o and putting it in my pocket
or leaving it in some random place and
forgetting about it.
I got this watch as a 21st birthday present
for myself. I never thought Id own a
real, railroad chronometer pocketwatch,
purely because they’re so expensive
($300-$500+ retail). But I got lucky,
and managed to nab this for less than
half retail price at a ea-market! I got it
overhauled by the watchmaker, and I’ve
been carrying it every day ever since.
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e 435 series boasted a 21
jewel manual movement,
with shock-absorption
technology, temperature
compensation (thats the
watchs ability to keep
time accurately, regardless
of the mainsprings
level of tension), as well
as adjustments to the
movement so that it would
keep time accurately in at
least six dierent positions
or orientations – Dial up,
dial down (if the watch
was placed face-down on a at surface), crown up (watch standing upright), crown
le, crown right, and crown down (watch hanging upside-down).
e watch is lever-set (as was mandatory on railroad watches). To set the time, you
need to unscrew the bezel, remove the bezel and the crystal from the face of the
watch, pop out the setting-lever at the 11 oclock position, and then turn the crown
to set the hands. is was a safety-feature, to ensure that the watch-crown didnt
accidentally pop up if it was jostled inside the owner’s pocket.
e watch also has bold hands and numerals, another mandatory feature, so that it
could be read easily in low-light conditions, or on a rocking, rolling train travelling
at high speed. Every minute is clearly marked, as well as every second on the sub-
dial at the 6 oclock position.
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Since this watch was manufactured for
the Canadian Pacic Railroad, it also
features a 24-hour dial (something
which was not mandatory for American
railroad watches). e watch runs for
about 36 hours on a full wind, and I
wind it up every morning when I get out
of bed.
I have no doubt that this watch had a
very active working life on the railroads.
One hand has been replaced. e dial has
a couple of small chips and two cracks,
the bow at the top of the watch has been
replaced, and the 10kt gold-lled case
shows signicant wear across the crown,
bow and winding-stem. is means that
it was wound up every day, day aer day,
for years! Nothing else would cause the
gold-lling to wear away like that.
This tiny setting-
lever at the 11:00
position has to
be pulled out like
this, before the
crown may be
turned to set the
time. The lever
is then popped
back in and the
bezel (top left) is
screwed back on.
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Manufacturer Prole
e Ball Watch Company is one of the most famous American-established watch
companies in the world. From 1891 to 1969, it produced some of the nest
pocketwatches of the best quality to be found anywhere. e Swiss might be famous
for their watches today, but only because the Americans got there rst, forced to
innovate and improve due to the necessity of accuracy and quality required on the
vast American railroad network.
e original Ball company folded in 1969, when it moved permanently to Switzerland.
ey dont produce pocketwatches anymore, but you can still buy Ball wristwatches
modelled on the company’s railroading past.
Item Insight: Railroad Chronometers
Railroads changed the world, starting in the 1830s. For the rst time in history, a
person could travel faster than a galloping horse, faster than a sailing ship! But they
also forced people to work together and come to certain agreements. Specically,
agreements about time.
ere was a time when there were dozens of time-zones across the United States.
And there were also loads of time-zones across Great Britain…and a whole heap
of other countries where railroads were introduced! In the days of the stagecoach,
none of this mattered, because it took days to get anywhere at all! But in an age
when a steam locomotive could whip you from New York to Chicago overnight,
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or a trip from London to Southampton took just a few hours, suddenly the time-
dierences were a pain in the neck!
Your train leaves the station in London at 12:00 noon.
Is that 12:00 noon London time? Or 12:00 noon Southampton time? Or if you were
going somewhere else, perhaps, 12:00 noon Bristol time?
See where this is going? Nobody knew! To keep things on track, railroad companies
forced their governments to enact the standard time-zones which we have today.
is was to prevent confusion, but more importantly, to keep things safe! In the
days before radio, wireless telegraph and telephones, the only way for trains to avoid
danger was to keep to a VERY strict schedule! To do this, they required highly-
accurate pocketwatches.
For most of the 1800s, railroad engineers, remen, conductors, stationmasters etc,
all carried their regular, everyday pocketwatches. But there was no standardisation.
No regulations. In 1891, an engineer’s pocketwatch stopped for four minutes. A jolt
probably got it ticking again, and it started keeping time…four minutes slower. e
result was that he le his station four minutes slower. Which was four minutes too
slow for another train heading into the station!
e resulting train-wreck forced railroad companies to do something about their
pocketwatches. Webster Clay Ball, a jeweller and watchmaker, was given the task of
setting up guidelines for what he believed, should be mandatory in a pocketwatch
used on the railroads for safety and accuracy purposes!
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e Ball Watch Company (established in 1891 in Cleveland, Ohio), was one of the
most famous American watch-companies of the rst half of the 20th century. e
original company folded in 1969, but the brand is still alive and kicking today, and
they produce watches in Switzerland.
e thing is that Ball didnt
actually PRODUCE many
railroad pocketwatches at
all. What the company did
was produce the rules and
regulations which railroad
pocketwatches had to
adhere to, and then other
watch-companies produced
pocketwatches to those
guidelines. And if they
passed muster, Ball would
put their stamp of approval
on the watch. So you might
nd a pocketwatch with
‘BALL’ on the dial, but with
something else (Hamilton
or Waltham or Elgin)
inside the movement – its
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not a mistake – thats how they were
made! Ball eventually did start making
pocketwatches of its own, but not until
Railroad chronometer regulations
changed constantly from the 1890s
until the 1950s. Jewel-counts went up
higher and higher. Starting originally at
17, but by the 1920s and 30s, had risen
to 21 or even 23 jewels. Diesel electric
trains forced the introduction of anti-
magnetic testing, so that watches would
not become magnetised, which would
aect accuracy. For the most part, only
American watches were allowed, for
ease of nding spare parts.
Regulations on railroad chronometers
extended far beyond features and
functionality. Among other things,
you were not allowed to set the watch
yourself! Your only job was to keep it
running! You had to wind it every day. If
it stopped running, you had to send it to
a railroad-approved watchmaker, who
would set the watchs time according to
the master clock which was calibrated
daily via electric telegraph!
Spot checks on watches were also
carried out. At a station, the engineer,
reman and conductor (and maybe the
station-master) would all get together
to compare watches. At least two out
of three (or three out of four) watches
had to display the correct time. e men
whose watches did not, had to send them
to be serviced or re-calibrated.
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This concludes our second issue of TAT Antiques. Hopefully here you’ve learned what gold and silver is. What they
mean, how to identify them, how to read the marks stamped onto your pieces of gold and silver, and a bit of the his-
tory of gold and silver. Beware of items that look like gold, or silver, and learn to tell the difference between what is
real gold, what’s real silver, what’s plate, nickel silver, lling, gilding and all the other methods used over the centu-
ries to simulate gold and silver, on top of a much cheaper base metal.
I hope that you’ll be joining us next time when we look at another facet of antiques, which will be antique ivory!
Photographs used in this issue of The Australia Times – Antiques, came from Wikimedia Commons, or were taken
by the TAT Antiques Editor.
Sources used in this issue of TAT Antiques included:
Documentary: “Metalworks!” – Episode 01 – “The Golden Age of Silver”. BBC.
www.925-1000.com – The Online Encyclopaedia of Silver Marks. Accessed 12th of May, 2015.
YouTube Channel: ASSAY OFFICE BIRMINGHAM – Birmingham Assay Ofce’s ofcial YouTube Channel (https://
www.youtube.com/user/BAO1773) Accessed 10th of May, 2015.